Timms: Sir, I don’t always understand poetry.
Hector: You don’t always understand it? Timms, I never understand it. But learn it now, know it now, and you will understand it… whenever.
Timms: I don’t see how we can understand it. Most of what poetry’s about hasn’t happened to us yet!
Hector: But it will, Timms, it will. And when it does, you’ll have the antidote ready. Grief, happiness… even when you’re dying. We’re making your deathbeds here, boys.
– From The History Boys by Alan Bennett
Certain albums, and mediums of art, serve as reminders that the human capacity and breadth of emotion is so great, and each individual’s experience of it all is so relatively small. For me, this album is one of those.
The Redeemer is a concept record about a break up, the curse of modern love, a relationship gone messy and sour. I’ve listened to it a lot this week, and all the time I’m acutely aware that I just can’t properly appreciate it. It’s not because it’s bad, it’s just because I have never had a relationship end like that. Some art is open and immediate; it immerses you in its feelings involuntarily. I think of other break up albums – Bon Iver’s For Emma, For Ever Ago, or if we’re thinking about poetry, John Donne’s ‘A Nocturn Upon St Lucy’s Day’. Other art requires patience, it doesn’t want to give you a by-proxy experience; it wants to be there to edify, exacerbate, accompany, aggrandise your own experience.
I can only stand on the periphery of this album, peering in, wondering what’s going on in there. By peering in, I suppose I mean googling all the trivia I can find, but that feels kind of like knowing the wavelength and frequency and etymology of red, but never actually seeing the colour. Blunt told the Guardian last year, ‘People wonder why nothing is interesting, it’s because they try to get a fucking answer to it, to everything’. Many of Blunt’s previous ideas have been, by his own admission, for no real reason, or just rather difficult to respond to, such as the gig where a teenager ran on a treadmill and a man in a disturbing rubber mask and Arsenal kit lurked on the speaker stacks, or his claim that he was caught robbing racoons from a taxidermist, or that he joined the Nation of Islam. Yet this album feels like it does have more of an answer, more to say. It isn’t nihilistic, it’s just unclear and multifarious, much like the break up it pivots on.
Whether or not Blunt agrees with my plight, I’m going to keep listening to this album, or rather save it for a day when it’s really needed. I don’t expect to find enlightenment through my research, nor do I expect this album to be ‘The Answer’ to a break up. Yet it is a response to a break up, and a fascinating one. Blunt, for all his elusiveness and obfuscation, knows how to pull a reference or two in to a song. For example, the strings on the first track are from K-Ci & JoJo’s “All My Life (I prayed for someone like you)”. The tracks ‘Papi’ and ‘I Run New York’ are references to Drake, who Blunt has previously sampled on Hype Williams songs and compared to Craig David – ‘everything about him. The mixed-race thing; he’s not sure if he can be gangsta enough, he’s quite a nice boy, but then he gets popular and he gets really arrogant, and starts to believe he’s this thing that he’s not.’ The track ‘Seven Seals of Affirmation’ refers to seven seals seen on a scroll in John of Patmos’s Revelation of Jesus Christ. Another track, ‘Walls of Jericho’, may be named after the defensive flood protection walls around the city of Jericho, but it could also refer to wrestler Chris Jericho’s finishing move. With Blunt, who knows?
The Redeemer is also beautiful – full of field sounds and rich orchestration and Blunt’s smooth, cocooning voice, and delicious contributions from folk singer Joanne Robertson. There’s the weeping strings and acoustic guitar as one might expect from a romantic break up album but they’re twisted and interrupted in various ways. Blunt relishes pop culture but simultaneously dismisses it. To return to poetry, it feels a little like T.S. Eliot’s ‘The Wasteland’. It meanders and wanders and dabbles in imagery and sounds and conversations that are openly given but not explained.
Last year, Dean Blunt echoed something similar to Bennett’s Hector – ‘situations will arise in our lives but you gotta be smart about it’, and I think The Redeemer is an album to remember when you’re trying to ‘be smart about it’. This is an album worth having on your deathbed. It’s not the most simple antidote, but it’s one of the most interesting I’ve found in a while.By Alice Lawrence